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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Stranger Things Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers

I have a friend who works in a game store. She says that they can't keep the D&D starter set in stock thanks in part to this Netflix show, Stranger Things.

This post is going to completely spoil the show, so turn away if you have not seen it yet!

With the boost from this show and shows like Critical Role, D&D 5th edition has already outdone the lifetime sales of 3rd edition, 3.5 and 4th. That's pretty amazing because 3rd edition has been out for 16 years and it was huge, as I recall. This edition has outsold it in the span of about two years.

Editions: If you don't play D&D, I should point out that each edition has different rules. 4th edition was very polarizing, as it felt a little limiting and board game-y. I loved it, but not everybody did. 5th edition seems to be universally beloved. It is very simple and easy to learn.

Spielberg: I have heard that this show has some serious D&D stuff in it and it is a sort of tribute to Spielberg '80's movies. As a dude who was lucky enough to grow up in the '80's, I got to see E.T. at a drive-in and Goonies in a theater. This show is probably right up my alley.

So, while normally I write about D&D stuff, I am going to review this show one episode at a time and throw in my wildly uninformed opinions. Please, if you can, do not put spoilers in the comments!

If you are interested in trying D&D, you can get the starter set on amazon for cheap:

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

We start off with a scene of a scientist getting killed by some unknown creature. Then we cut to some 80's looking kids playing D&D. The DM plops Demogorgon on the table. The mini looks a bit like Demogorgon, but when you look closer, it's a snake version. The D&D one has two mandril heads.

Demogorgon is a big deal to the kids because in the version of D&D in the 80's (AD&D 1st edition) Demogorgon was considered the most powerful creature in the Monster Manual because it had the most hit points.

These 4 are our heroes:
  • Mike: Dungeon Master Kid
  • Lucas: Black Kid (We learn nothing about this guy in this episode)
  • Will Byers: Nice Kid
  • Dustin: Comedic Goofy Kid
They've been playing D&D for ten hours.

The show has a real E.T. '80's look. The music is a bit more 70's. It's very good music, but it doesn't quite match up for me.

While riding home on his bike alone at night, nice guy Will Byers rides by the laboratory and almost collides with some humanoid alien thing.

The kid ditches his bike and runs home. Nobody's there. He looks out the window and there is that thing coming closer.

He dials a rotary phone. Yes! An actual rotary phone. Electronics seem to fizzle around this creature. Phone doesn't work. The thing comes in the house.

The kid runs out to the shed and.. wow. He loads a rifle. The thing somehow appears behind him and both of them vanish. Then we get the title sequence.

That was pretty awesome. I like that kid.

The music so far seems off if we're going for a Steven Spielberg vibe. The music sounds more like something you would hear in The Running Man rather than Close Encounters.

Next morning. Some drunk guy takes a shower. He's a cop. His name is Jim Hopper.

Meanwhile. Will's mom.. Winona Ryder! She still doesn't look old at all. She does sound a little older. Winona plays Joyce, Will's mom. She begins to panic when she realizes Will is gone.

Our D&D group goes to school and are accosted by some pretty mild bullies. I thought they were going to make goofy kid do the truffle shuffle, but instead he just cracks his shoulders.

The Dungeon Master's sister makes out with some dude in a bathroom. He's really pushy. She agrees to go on a date with him. I hope that thing kills him.

Winona goes to see drunk cop. Seriously, I have never seen her emote this much. She's like 20 times improved as an actress. It's pretty amazing. Anyway, she wants drunk cop to get off his ass and find Will Byers.

We cut to the laboratory. Dr. Martin Brenner (a white-haired Matthew Modine) and some guys put on radiation suits, grab guns and go into the lab. There's this giant, veiny, pulsing thing on the wall.

Cryptic Dialogue:

Guy: "This is where it came from?"

Matthew Modine: "Yes."

Guy: "And the girl?"

Matthew Modine: "She can't have gone far."

So, is this thing a portal that the creature came out of? Is there a girl in there?

We cut to presumably the girl. She's barefoot and has a crewcut. She emerges from the woods. She gets caught stealing french fries from a diner.

Back at school, sobered-up Jim Brenner questions the kids. They want to help find Will, but he shuts that idea down.

The diner guy, Benny, questions the girl. Her name is "11." That's what she says, anyway. That number is tattooed on her wrist. You get the vibe she's an alien or something and she doesn't know how to speak. When Benny goes to get her more food, she uses psychic powers to stop a fan that was making rattling noises.

The cops are out looking for Will. They find his bike.

We cut to some people monitoring phone calls, including Joyce. Drunk cop brings the bike to Joyce's house. He starts taking this seriously and quickly zeroes in on the shed.

There's something in the shed, but he doesn't quite get a look at it before it goes away.

There's a search of the forest at night. We learn that officer Jim Brenner had a daughter who died. I wonder if that will turn out to be 11.

Mike and Lucas talk over walkie talkies and point out that in the campaign, Will stuck his neck out for the party even though it put him in danger. They decide they are going to do the same for him in real life. Awesome. D&D is so great, I am so glad people are starting to take notice.

Social services shows up at the diner. You immediately get a... ohh no, she shot him! She shot the diner guy! I liked him. 11 takes off running. A bunch of agents bust in. She does something to two of them, we don't see what. She flees into the forest.

Then we get a very Spielbergian shot of the kids on their bikes at night.

Pushy boyfriend creeps into the sister's room. I hate this schmuck. Boyfriend turns studying into some sort of strip poker game. He's the worst.

Joyce gets a phone call. Yikes, she hears weird noises and then an electric shock comes through the phone and hits her. That was really creepy.

The kids are out in the woods at night in the rain looking for Will. Instead, they find 11.


I am extremely picky about TV shows, but I really liked this. I admire the effort they put in trying to replicate the look and feel of those '80's movies. I am also kind of staggered at just how much happened in a single episode. Can they maintain this level of quality throughout the series? I guess we'll see!

Demogorgon: What was it about that opening scene that people liked so much? Was it just that they got a look at what D&D is actually like? You really didn't get to see very much.

One Long Movie: This show reminds me of Twin Peaks in a way. It doesn't have that surreal quality to it, but it feels like one really long movie. This show feels like an instant classic.

Click here to continue on to episode 2.


Mason Peatross said...

You're going to love it. Have fun!

UE said...

Winona Ryder is by far the hammiest actor of the lot by the time the final episode ends sadly.

Buuutttt it is still a solid show with a lot of future potential for the upcoming second season.
I am not sure what has people so excited for D&D with the series either, but I won't complain :P

John C said...

The show is great...enjoy! Uality is maintained throughout. I actually feel it gets better as it goes along.

That Demogorgon mini is based on an actual one that existed. From what I've heard, the sculptor is making a new version due to the impact of the show.

UE said...

@John C: Yeah the demogorgon is an old ralpatha mini

Sean said...

Mason Peatross: Thanks! So far it is really good.

UE: I was shocked at Winona. I watched Bram Stoker's Dracula a few months ago and she barely emotes at all.

John C: Ah I didn't know that. Thanks!

BlueDrake said...

Thanks for the review. I started watching it this weekend after reading this and am really enjoying it so far.

Your Curse of Strahd guides are awesome! I'm only 2 weeks into the campaign, but I've already used some of the ideas in your outline. Thank you for writing them.

Sean said...

BlueDrake: You are most welcome. Curse of Strahd is awesome! If you have the time, check out Dice Camera Action, it helped me so much in figuring out how to present things. I'm glad you like this show, I am really liking it so far. We really live in a great time when it comes to TV and movies, IMO.

Bronk said...

I always thought Demogorgon was scary because of his instadeath tentacle arms. They seemed very... final!

I have to say, I wish I was playing DnD with my friends back then! I didn't stumble into it until later though.

I liked the full on 80's-ness of the show too, although I didn't feel like they were emulating a specific style so much as giving a series of shout-outs.

It was a very fun episode!

Sean said...

Bronk: Playing D&D as a kid was part fun part horrible. Nobody knew what they were doing. I didn't understand that D&D and AD&D were different games for years!